Hiring Discrimination Against Black Applicants Hasn’t Changed Since 1989

October 19, 2017

A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and coauthored by RSF grantee Devah Pager (Harvard University), Lincoln Quillian (Northwestern University), Ole Hexel (Northwestern University), and Arnfinn Midtbøen (Institute for Social Research, Norway) finds that discrimination against African American job applicants has remained steady for nearly three decades.

In their study, the authors analyzed all available field experiments on hiring discrimination against African Americans and Latinos conducted between 1989 and 2015. These experiments were either resume audits—in which the resumes of fictionalized applicants with similar qualifications but distinct racialized names were submitted online or by mail—or in-person audits—in which trained testers with similar qualifications but different racial identities applied for the same job. In total, the experiments encompassed 55,842 applications submitted for 26,326 positions.

In their meta-analysis of these experiments, the authors found that “on average, white applicants received 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans…representing a substantial degree of direct discrimination.” White applicants also received “on average 24% more callbacks than Latinos.” The authors also found that for African Americans, this rate of hiring discrimination did not change significantly between 1989 and 2015, a span of nearly 30 years.

When assessing changes in hiring discrimination against Latinos over time, the authors found a slight downward trend, indicating that discrimination may be lessening. But due to the small number of Latinos in the field experiments, they caution against drawing firm conclusions that discrimination against Latinos is on a downward trend. Overall, the authors' analyses indicate that job discrimination on the basis of race remains a pressing problem, even in the twenty-first century.

"Contrary to widespread assumptions about the declining significance of race," the authors write, "the magnitude and consistency of discrimination we observe over time is a sobering counterpoint."

Read the full report in PNAS.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.